Photography as Art

They say that a good story is worth retelling, well I don’t know if this is a good story, but it keeps getting retold by others, so I’ll jump into the frame with my own version…

There have been a number examples of celebrities complaining (and occasionally even suing) magazines for retouching photographs. Famous examples include Kate Winslet (there there are many more links than just this one on Kate’s issues with GQ magazine) and Faith Hill (including this blog posting on the Faith Hill example) but the art of doctoring or modifying photographs has gone for as long as there have been photographs. So what particular example do I bring to the table? This one

(The picture should be an animated GIF showing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ effects of photo retouching. If it doesn’t change then click on the photo to open it in a new window)

Full credit for the photo goes to Lee Phillips1 at Flickr

It is taken from a BBC Three program Dawn gets naked that was recently (re)shown in the UK. Obviously with a title like that it was going to grab the attention, but there was more to it than simple voyeurism. As Dawn attempted to overcome her issues with body image, she learnt how to perform a burlesque strip tease and organised a mass flash mob entirely composed of women riding an open top bus around London. But the most interesting part was as intrepid reporter got her body initially made up and then retouched by the digital artists.

Again credit to Lee Phillips1

My mind had two questions as we witnessed the transformation

  1. Why do we believe that an image that was captured using a mechanical/ electronic device should actually represent the truth? Sure, it can be used to represent the truth, but does it always have to?

One of the dominant trends in the art world for over 100 years has been the impressionist movement. If you look at the work of Monet, van Gogh and the like, the images are nothing like the truth. Yet they are undeniably desirable (to me at least, and if the sale prices at the major auction houses are anything to go by, by a lot of other people as well).

If we go further back in the history of art the paintings and sculpture are more lifelike and at the time served the purpose of capturing a measure the truth. But if you are commissioned to paint a King and he is overweight, ugly, has bad skin and bad teeth (insert favourite joke about bad British teeth here) it may be in your best interest (not to mention keeping your head attached to your shoulders) to exercise a little artistic licence and make him look a little better than reality would have it. So what did Henry VIII really look like? And what about Henry V? William the Conquerer? If we go back 1,000 years then the process of creating paint the correct colour was beyond the means of most artists- never mind the fact that perspective was not truly understood. So how do we know that the image we have of Kings, Queens and the like are anything like the truth? So maybe the trend of photo retouching is simply continuing a tradition that has existed as long as artists have painted- that of making the image a little more than the truth.

2. The other question is a little more social sciences oriented: Why do women want their physical appearance to look like the images of women they see on the covers of magazines?

OK, there are many, many women who make a lot of money for nothing more than looking good and very few men (Name me one male supermodel? OK, now name me 10 female supermodels) but is that a real aspiration for women? There is a huge industry in making women thinking they need to primp, preen and pump themselves up- and don’t get me wrong, I like it (a lot) when I watch the transformation in a women as hair, makeup and the like get applied. And maybe guys just have it easier- can you imagine George Clooney spending more than 20 minutes getting ready for a night out? Even Samuel L Jackson gives the impression that looking that good doesn’t take effort.

I guess I just don’t get it. But that might explain why I am single